Nineteen years after the tragedy at Columbine, which killed 13 people and ushered in an era of school shootings across the nation, hundreds of thousands of high school students from around the country left class on Wednesday to protest the extreme ease with which firearms can be purchased in the United States. Students from Columbine, who hadn’t even been born in 1999, participated as well. This demonstration was nothing less than exceptional, bearing witness to an anger that is still going strong, one month after the spark was lit by the Parkland shooting.
This wave of discontent must endure for a long time and must become politically significant so that things end up changing, since so much of the absurd defense of the Second Amendment to the Constitution has become a matter of big money. Otherwise, it is realistically doubtful that that the National Rifle Association gun lobby will dissolve in the face of this extraordinary, but still embryonic, protest movement.
Politicians in Florida have taken some small, timid steps to tighten gun control since the disastrous shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. The ultra-Republican governor, Rick Scott, signed a law last Friday that raises the minimum age to purchase all types of weapons from 18 to 21, but it’s a law that has also ceded to the false idea that the solution to violence is armed teachers, an idea dear to the NRA. In fact, nothing in this new legislation fundamentally addresses the proliferation of assault weapons in that state.
At the federal level, there has so far been total and complete inaction. At the beginning of the week, Donald Trump gave up and retreated, after having promised in the wake of the shooting to fight for tighter control over firearm sales and after reproaching congressional Republicans for being “afraid of the NRA.” Here again, the White House endorsed the prospect of armed teachers, which the advocacy movement born in Parkland clearly rejected.
Making matters worse, the White House announced the creation of a federal commission on school security and entrusted its leadership to Betsy DeVos, the incompetent secretary of education famously known for having defended, in confirmation hearings last year, the idea that guns could have their place in schools “to protect from potential grizzlies.”
Other large student gatherings have been planned: first on March 24 in Washington, then on April 20, on the occasion of the anniversary of Columbine. These gatherings will test the resilience of the opposition against the complacency of politicians.